This government is a habitual liar. When caught lying by an outraged public, it retreats while looking for an explanation, with what is called damage limitation. Irrespective of the subject matter, one learns on every such occasion that the government works against the citizens. This doesn’t surprise me. It is a logical consequence of what political scientists call partitocracy, of the fact that the entire Serbian political party structure has come to form a unified class. The government’s public statements make it clear that the parties are all perfectly well disposed to each other, which means that the party-political struggle is either a sham or devoid of all meaning. Either way, the people have become, it seems to me, simply uninterested in what in this country passes for politics, feeling that they are all palace debates. You have, in addition, the non-transparency in how the parties are financed – we have no idea how this occurs. When [TV presenter] Olja Bećković asked Tadić who financed his party, he replied that he did not know. So you have an open teaming up of big capital with the political elite, and in the last instance electoral laws that allow the parties to negotiate privately not just the formation of the government, but also who will become a parliamentary deputy. The deputies vote by pressing a button. It has been said hundreds of times that the parliament is superfluous – having decided matters between themselves, they should simply inform us of the result.
You thus have a completely non-transparent political process. It is indeed presented as something that should be of no concern to the citizens – that everything will be solved within the institutions, which are controlled by the parties. The parties in their various coalitions and inter-party trading are amalgamated with big business. So you have a political system that is fully non-transparent. As a result the people no longer feel inclined to watch political programmes, because they know they will not learn anything from them, and can see from various affairs such as the cases of Infostan [unpaid utility bills] and Miladin Kovačević [refusal to extradite thug to USA] that the state is controlled by people who follow only their own rather than the public interest. This stimulates social apathy and the feeling that we are impotent objects of rule, that there is no way we can change this situation. In normal conditions one would call for new elections, but then you know that elections cannot change anything at all, because whatever the results they will agree among themselves, as they always do.
The architect and standard bearer of this whole strategy is the Democratic Party, which tries to obscure all crucial questions, which has proclaimed national reconciliation – meaning that it is all in the past, we can all work together, we have common interests, we shall protect each other’s backs. The slogan ‘Kosovo and Europe!’, which Tadić used in the last election campaign, is a good illustration of what is going on. There is no policy here other than to freeze all political processes, sweep all key questions under the carpet, and neutralise all social conflicts. This approach leads in fact to paralysis, or to something which [Soviet novelists] Iljf and Petrov used to describe as ‘let it be a swamp, but a warm one’. The political process therefore takes place in an ad-hoc fashion. Since the current conflicts cannot be solved within the institutions, they are solved in other ways.
The economic crisis, our own and the worldwide one, is adding to this, having become an additional alibi for the absence of will to conduct the reforms promised back in 2000. I feel we are sinking – we have already talked about this, about our society’s state of anomie, in which the people don’t understand what is happening, and nothing is happening in fact, one sees only decay. I had hoped that the crisis might prompt us to face up to the truth, because in my view our biggest problem as a state and society is a faulty perception of what we are, a perception that doesn’t correspond to reality. We are never told that we are poor, that our resources are minimal, that our international standing is not good, that our population is exhausted, that we have a massive brain drain, that our society is divided and poorly educated. We are not told this, and are instead fed with unwarranted optimism. We are constantly re-polishing this image of ourselves, which is why our expectations are totally unrealistic and our disappointments correspondingly great. I used to think, wrongly as it turned out, that the very momentum of this grave crisis might produce one positive result – to make us more sensible about who we are and what situation we are in; and that this in turn would stimulate us to try to achieve what we can, repair what can be repaired, and live a bit better. The world appears unreal to us because we have an unreal image of ourselves, one that is essentially narcissistic and consequently also paranoid: since I am so very important and since no one understands me, then I am the victim of a conspiracy. This is no good.
Svetlana Lukić[presenter]: Like, we had nothing before the Second World War and then the Germans came and took it all away. The same with this crisis, we’ve imported it from abroad. This comes to be quickly accepted – becomes a slogan within days.
Srđa Popović: Because the idea of responsibility, whether on the individual, social or political plane, does not exist here. Take, for example, the affair with minister [of justice Snežana] Malović, who was caught stealing money. She has returned the money, but she does not feel that this has any political implications. The prime minister agrees with her. No one feels that what she has done compromises the whole system, which is why she should resign. We refuse to accept responsibility for the crimes committed in our name, and the people who were responsible for what happened in the 1990s are back in power. The very concept of responsibility is totally alien to us, because something like that has an individual basis – you feel responsibility first of all in your private life and then demand it of others. But no one here feels personal responsibility in their private life, demands anything serious of themselves, questions themselves to see if that demand has been met. This idea of personal responsibility may have a religious basis, but it is the foundation of society as a whole, because it informs your relationship with others and at the same time your relationship with yourself. If you don’t have such a relationship with yourself, then you don’t have it with others either. The persistent psychological alibi sought here is that life has always been hard, that people never had the power to direct their lives, but have always been objects of rule, like today. If you don’t have the power, then you don’t have the responsibility, but only alibis – what could I do, I had to do what I had to, everyone did it. So it’s pointless to evoke my responsibility, nor do I feel responsible.
At the very origin of this anomie lies the Democratic Party. Why are they such a big problem? It because from the very start most hope was invested in them: they were supposed to be a civic, democratic, pro-Western and modernizing party, which therefore attracted the people who believed in such values. But when one looks back, one realises that they acquired very early on a destructive gene which is the source of all their – and hence also our – problems. One has to go as far back as 1968. We tend to limit our analysis to brief periods, whereas these processes are of longer duration. The year 1968 produced a feeble and questionable opposition – known as ‘dissidents’ – which remained on the scene until 2000. It in fact supplied the leaderships of all the political parties that emerged when the multi-party system was introduced in 1990. The structure of the opposition born in 1968 was highly eclectic, however – very diffuse and very ambiguous. On the one hand you had the Marxists, who were also the most visible current; but you also had the nationalists, the anti-Communists, and a very weak civic and liberal current. What is interesting, on reflection, is that over the next thirty years this weakest current would turn out to be politically the most active, initiating all those actions in which the others then joined. For instance, the so-called ‘petition circle’ emerged from this civic-liberal current; the others then simply signed and joined in. When Communism as ideology and policy collapsed globally, something happened that was, of course, to be expected: the nationalists and the anti-Communists proclaimed victory, and were able to form the strongest opposition parties. You had Vuk Drašković, Vojislav Š ešelj, that [Mirko] Jović – all kinds of people cropped up at that moment. The Marxists experienced defeat, of course, and mostly sided with the Socialists, out of fear of what Milošević rightly called the forces of chaos and madness. Drašković and Š ešelj, who represented such forces, greatly contributed in my view to the Socialist Party’s victory in those first elections. The civic and liberal current, meanwhile, gave birth to the Democratic Party, which at the time of its formation was perceived as a modernising party, pro-democratic and pro-Western, and attracted the best educated people, the urban element.
I recall – forgive me for turning to personal reminiscence – at the time when the Democratic Party was being formed, how Kosta Čavoški brought me its programme, it being understood that I would join that party. I did not wish to engage in politics, but my sympathies lay in that direction. But when I looked at the programme, I saw that it was made up of two perfectly contradictory parts. There was one part that advocated, broadly speaking, the widest democratic values, freedoms, civil rights, and a market economy; and another part that stood for the most extreme nationalism imaginable. I would have signed the first part there and then, but would not have dreamed of signing the other. Looking back now, I see that they were already greatly impressed by the success of the right-wing parties, and of Milošević’s nominally left but in reality also right-wing party, and had convinced themselves that they would remain isolated and alone unless they too become nationalists. It was then that they built a developmental gene into their party that has remained active ever since; a gene that at some point was to provoke a conflict between Dragoljub Mićunović and Zoran Đinđić, and again between Đinđić and Vojislav Koštunica, Nikola Milošević and Kosta Čavoški. This contradiction ensured that the party would remain unstable, leading in the end to the split between Boris Tadić and [LDP leader] Čedomir Jovanović. The party was permanently torn apart by the contradiction built into its very essence, of which Tadić’s aforementioned slogan ‘Kosovo and Serbia’ was but the latest example. The contradictory demands which they posed to themselves from the start also explain the whole story about national reconciliation, because they seek to reconcile the two irreconcilable parts of their programme and to now make peace at the personal level, as well as at the governmental and state level.
The gene which they built into their party is the destiny of this society, because it reflects also the public mood, among voters who are tired of dissension, conflicts, what are popularly called quarrels: stop quarrelling and reach an agreement on what you want. A mood that still views positively the conciliatory, supra-political, I would say messianic, role chosen by Boris Tadić – a healing balm for worn-out voters, but one that in fact leads nowhere; one that is paralysed, because it is subject to the action of two equal and opposing forces. It is a nullity wasting what little reforming energy this society still possesses, and suggesting in fact that we are lost – that it is best not even try to do anything, but continue to be passive and wait for someone to come to our rescue. What Milošević said at Gazimestan remains the ideology of most Serbian parties, and of their ongoing coalitions. The only difference is that Milošević then promised people future conflicts that could also involve war, whereas today military conflicts are omitted, with Jeremić repeating instead: only by political, diplomatic and legal means. But the aims remain the same.
As I was coming to the studio, I saw a slogan painted on a wall: ‘We shall not give up Republika Srpska!’ But do we have it to begin with? Is it not a done thing? We harbour here the SAO Krajina government-in-exile. The aims remain the same. We are told that we are not able to achieve these aims right now, but that one day we shall be in a position to do so. The only thing that has changed is that as a state we have given up using force; but we have done so only because we have destroyed the potential to do so – because we are no longer in any position to use force. Which means that the changes which the nationalist ideology has undergone since Gazimestan are ones caused by the defeat of that policy, but the aims and the readiness to realise those aims remain unchanged. This historical wilderness in which we live is in fact a political wilderness – it is a matter of values – a whole system of values has been built in this spasm, and in the struggle against the whole world in which we engaged back in the 1990s. We have adopted a hedgehog position, which prevents universal human values from reaching our society. Moreover, we have got used to this isolation, and I do not believe we even notice it any longer in practice.
Nothing happens here politically speaking, but this does not mean that nothing is happening in general. An intensive primitive accumulation is proceeding – I believe that the main interest of the participants in the political process is chiefly economic. This has come to involve the whole society, so that all social relations are treated as economic in nature. The result of this is what Edgar Morin wittily termed cold barbarism: we do not kill or cut throats, just coldly rob each other, in the belief that this is the essence and meaning of our relations. Everything else is a romantic illusion, or Communist nonsense; everything else has been superseded, nothing else exists. This involves a reduction of both the individual and social existence to production, exchange and distribution, as if that represented one’s whole life; as if this were not simply a condition – since economy is merely a condition for realising other values. Society’s aim is not accumulation of wealth for its own sake, the aim of a healthy society is cultural progress – this, I think, is the supreme social value, not wealth. Sometimes you see, we used to laugh at ourselves, I mean I laughed at myself, when I used to talk about a new church, about how a spiritual movement may be more important here than a political one. As the example of Obama shows. Obama has perhaps not come up with any brilliant idea that will solve all the problems of America’s society, economy or international position. What he has brought is a new tone, a more humane approach, a moral position, what Čedomir Jovanović calls a different system of values. He has offered American society a fundamental and comprehensive renewal. We have lost our way, we must renew this society and, as individuals, re-examine – each one of us – our own conduct and how we relate to each other. This is the church of which I speak, the spiritual rather than political message.
Coming new to politics, since we had hitherto been ruled, we came to see it as deceiving and swindling one another. We have come to see political speech as propaganda , and to approach politics in the most cynical fashion. This has in the end come to imbue the whole society – which had no experience of a pluralistic political life – this view that politics is a big fraud and that’s all there is to it; that the only question is ‘who whom’; that in the final instance it is a question of material gain. But politics is not that, and society does not function like that. The cynicism prevailing at the top has seeped into society, so that, I reiterate, my only hope rests with civil society. I think that the renewal of our society cannot come from above; that it must come from life itself, from everyday life, and from what is called ordinary people. The hope is that they will organise themselves against the state, because what the state is doing is destroying them. There are some positive signals here, the public is starting to react spontaneously on some occasions – for example, in relation to the anti-discrimination law, or on behalf of the Roma, or in reaction to the Infostan scandal. This shows that there are still people here who believe in universal values and elementary humanity. I am not talking about solidarity here, but about humanity: that we should treat each other as subjects not objects – objects of rule and nothing but economic partners. There still exists here a substratum that rejects the cold barbarism in which we live.
I believe that one should no longer bother with the parties, I really do. The best message we can send them at the next elections is a turnout of no more than 15 percent. They offer nothing – why then should I vote for them, for a government that I already know will be no good? I have had enough of the story of the lesser evil, which serves only to perpetuate the same situation, one in which the lesser evil grows bigger and bigger and we all slide downward. That is a way of preventing people from rising up and fighting for what they really believe in, for what they really want. They are told instead: no, the Democratic Party is the best option in the given circumstances. But the Democratic Party is no good. I wish to change precisely the conditions in which it appears to be the best. Otherwise they can say: well, you chose it, it’s the people’s will, why do you complain now, you chose us.
From radioshow Pescanik broadcasted on 17 April 2009.
Translated by Bosnian Institute, 08.06.2009.